*Editor’s Note: Welcome Shawn Smucker as he shares his first post for Deeper Church. I’ve been following his writing for some time at ShawnSmucker.com. After you read his piece here, spend some time at his place today.
I spend three solid days and nights there, waiting for her to die. I go home only because I need to shower and, besides, I feel bad for my wife, pregnant and watching the four kids by herself. But she shushes my apologies and says, “Grandma won’t be here much longer.”
And all eight of my aunts and uncles return to Pennsylvania, and nearly all of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren show their face from time to time. Usually there are thirty or forty of us there at night, all sitting in the largest room our aunt’s house has to offer. Some sit on the floor, others sprawl on the folding chairs. My grandmother sits in her armchair, eyes open, barely breathing. This atmosphere, being surrounded by her family, the singing: it’s as close to heaven as she’s ever been.
Songs spring up out of the silent spaces, old hymns and gospel songs, and I realize that somehow I know the words even though I can’t remember the last time I sang them.
What will it be when we get over yonder
And join the throng upon the glassy sea?
To greet our loved ones and crown Christ forever,
Oh, this is just what Heaven means to me.
But eventually I realize I cannot spend my entire life waiting for someone to die, no matter how much I wish I could be there when she leaves, so I look in on her one last time and then I get on with my life. I text my dad to see how things are going. I stop by a few times each day, peek my head in to make sure.
Seventy-two hours later, two in the morning, my phone buzzes on the side table. A text message. She is gone. I creep out of bed and get dressed in the dark and drive through bright stars to a warm house full of people who gathered for one last time. More songs. Tears.
An understanding sits there in the living room, like a long-lost cousin, that these are moments of simple faith. When someone I love is dying, I don’t find myself arguing fine points of theology. Doctrine takes a back seat to wonder and amazement at this ending of a good life, at the way the soul and body separate. I even sense within me the subtle traces of an unfamiliar longing to follow her into the unknown. I drive home at 3am.
The next afternoon my wife comes out of the bathroom with a strange look on her face.
“I’m bleeding,” she says. “A lot.” So we go to the doctor and they do a sonogram and there’s no heartbeat and a lot of empty space inside of her that should be crowded by a fourteen-week-old baby.
“I’m so sorry,” the tech says, handing my wife a box of Kleenex. We stare at each other in the dark room, and the empty space on the screen spreads and somehow lodges inside of me. And I think of the hymns I sang as Grandma passed.
A country where no twilight shadows deepen,
Unending day where night shall never be.
A city where no storm clouds ever gather,
Now this is just what Heaven means to me.
And on the day after my Grandmother dies, and on the day before her viewing, my wife miscarries. It follows the progression of birth and takes a few hours. I gather what was passed, as if sifting through all of the pain and disappointment, trying to find something, anything. And I bury what she passed in a box, under a pile of large rocks in the woods where we will soon live. On the box is the word HOPE.
In these difficult times I realize this is the core of my faith: hope. I realize that regardless of my doubts and uncertainty, my anger and questions (and they are many, and they are still there), a small seed of belief exists, sometimes dormant, sometimes stirring. I find an unexpected love for this fellowship of believers and yearn for the moment when I can push through the veil.
There are things I forget when normal life overwhelms me with static. Yet in that empty darkness of grief, surrounded by those who love me, the static fades, and the hint of a subtle melody emerges.